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Manufacturing

So, in my last blog, I pointed out that Manufacturers, and particularly car makers, will be driving the Internet of Things (IoT) by incorporating standard networks into their machines.   I also indicated that evolving the standards is going to be critical to that adoption.

Applying standard networks (by that I mean Ethernet, IP, TCP/UDP, 802.11/WiFi, etc.) machines is going to be a distinctly different than the networking of computers, phones and the plethora of tablets and handheld devices that has driven the Internet and standard networks to date.

The network affect applies here: that is to say that the value of devices (and the capabilities they represent) increases exponentially when they can communicate with other devices and systems.  Sensing an obstacle in the road is not much use if it cannot tell the braking and acceleration systems to take action, or tell the driver, or even better tell the steering system, to avoid the obstacle.  Then there is even more value in telling the other cars in the area.  And, even more when you can tell Highway Patrol and Transportation authorities that something needs to be avoided, cleaned up or fixed.  I like to think of it as on-machine, between machines and machine to cloud (or data center) communication.  One colleague of mine refers to this model as ground, fog and cloud – more on that later.  So lets look at how each of these types of communication has particular challenges for standard networking.

On-machine is where the devices talk to each other about doing their jobs in a coordinated fashion.  It is often referred to as Automation and Control.  This is typically done in quick, regular and short messages.  They require low-latency (fast), low-jitter (consistent) and very reliable communication.   Standard networks are taking on the challenge in a number of ways.  Bandwidth and network infrastructure performance is always increasing (e.g. 10Mbs connections to 100Mbs to 1 Gigabit to the emerging 10 Gigabit used in data centers) and dropping in cost, this trend will improve latency.  Enhanced Quality of Service (QoS) prioritizes the Automation and Control and delivers a consistent network performance that decreases jitter and improves reliability.  Standardized and adopted protocols to handle multi-path networks effectively need the most work.  Spanning-Tree (IEEE 802.1D) and its extensions are simply too slow for these applications, and nothing else is available and adopted that does.  Lastly, a synchronized and precise concept of time allows even tighter coordination between devices.  In this area, the IEEE 1588 Precision Time Protocol is available and relatively well adopted, but needs further evolution.  Check out this application that is supported by a precise, standard industrial network.  So, clearly a lot of work has been done, but a lot is still needed.

More on between machine and machine to cloud next week…

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